16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[a] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[b]
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
To examine: 1) how everyone, including the most skeptical, non-religious person has a set of implicit or explicit beliefs, and 2) how Paul skillfully developed an argument for a belief in Jesus to a skeptical audience in Athens.
Last week, we examined the belief of Jesus being the ultimate revelation of God’s word, and the subsequent belief that because the Bible says what God says, it does not need to be added to, amended, or updated. This week we turn our attention to the notion of belief itself, and in particular we will look at the doctrinal foundations of the biblical faith. Everyone—whether they realize it or not—believes something about life’s big questions, e .g. Why are we here?, Where are we going?, or What happens when we die? Our actions and lives are based on those beliefs. People may call these beliefs a “philosophy of life,” a “narrative identity,” or a “worldview.” A particular worldview is made up of narratives or big stories that give that worldview explanatory power. In this passage today from Acts, we will look at a sermon Paul gives in Athens and examine how he skillfully exposes and then critiques the Greek worldview while building a convincing case for belief in the God of the Bible. Athens was the intellectual capital of the Greco-Roman world. Before the rise of the Roman Empire, it was also the leading political and cultural center of the Greek world. After Greece was conquered by Rome, Athens remained the center of learning. Paul did not originally plan to come to Athens to preach. It is believed he made his way there to escape persecution in Macedonia and was waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him there before beginning his mission.3 But as he waited for them, he felt compelled to speak out about what he saw.
Goal of this section: To examine the ways in which Paul winsomely engaged with the culture to begin to build toward an argument for the God of the Bible.
Goal of this section: To examine Paul’s address and see how he builds an argument for Jesus.
**4. What specific aspects of God does Paul highlight in his sermon, and how do these attributes vary from aspects of the Greeks’ gods? (vv. 24-28)
Go back over Paul’s sermon (vv. 24-31) with your head and heart more engaged as a result of the discussion you’ve just had. What phrase jumps out at you now? Or perhaps there was something said about this text by one of your community group members that you found arresting or convicting. Take some time to prayerfully reflect on it before God. Meditate on the obstacles that prevent you from fully believing and obeying that truth. Ask God for renewal and strength. Let God speak to you as you speak to him. After this period of silence, have one person close this time before moving onto sharing and prayer
• Catch up with each other’s lives to celebrate, thank God, and share challenges that need prayer. • Share about any meaningful conversations you’ve had with friends who don’t self-identify as Christians. • If there is a particular work or mission that God is calling you to, make others aware so they can pray for you.
• Ask for forgiveness for the ways we try to make God into a God of our own choosing and for our temptation to pick and choose only those aspects of God we resonate most with (i.e. Creator), choosing to ignore the aspects of God (i.e. Judge) that seem daunting. • Thank God that he cannot be worshiped by idols or images, and that he is far more beautiful, robust, personal, and transcendent that we can ever comprehend.